Almost a year ago in a lesson with Yves, I got a little talking-to about how I needed to put a lid on Murray’s
celebratory naughty behavior when we are jumping. I was playing around in the lesson and it was all fun and games, but Yves told me seriously and in that horrible way that makes you know you’re really, really not doing the right thing, that I did not want Murray thinking that this was okay. Not now, and especially not as we moved up the levels.
And of course my response was oh it’s fine / it’s no big deal / it’s not that bad / it’s all in good fun / I like him like this / it’s cute / I’m an idiot.
Now I’ve finally realized while it’s not that big of a deal, and it’s not that bad, and it may be all in good fun (MAYBE), I do not like him like this, it’s not cute, and I’m totally, totally an idiot.
I got on tonight for a flat ride in my jump saddle to prep for Hawley. Murray decided that every single noise another horse made in the arena was a fantastic excuse to drop his hind end and fling his face in the air and run forward, which was super awesome. The best part was that Murray’s screaming and spooking would set off a chain reaction with the other horses, so they’d all spook at one another and make more noise and spook at the noise and make more noise etc.
After we jigged our way into the trot and had several ridiculous mishaps and near misses with the other horses I set some clear boundaries. Bucking, kicking out, and screaming were not going to get Murray out of work, and the best way to convince my lazy, recalcitrant horse that antics = more work is to kick him forward. So kick him forward I did.
Our warm up, which I usually try to keep stretchy and relaxed, became a monster 20 minute session of moving forward forward forward, direction changes, canter transitions, and transitions within gaits. I was willing to soften whenever Murray complied with a reasonable request for some kind of change without fighting me on it first, but he wasn’t really willing to offer up reasonable responses at first.
The best part was when I tried to push Murray forward into the bridle and a slightly bigger trot and I felt my upper body pitching forward in anticipation… of nothing. I tried again for a bigger trot and again: nothing. Little kick? Nothing — maybe a reluctant duck behind the bit. I pony-school kicked Murray and got a cranky canter transition.
You know what you can’t do if your horse responds to your leg by doing nothing? JUST ABOUT ANYTHING. You can’t push him into the bridle, you can’t ask him to carry himself, you can’t transition within gaits, you can barely transition between gaits.
So it was back to the drawing board. The entire ride became a discussion of “leg means go, and it means go now”. I used a strategy Tina taught me and if Murray chose to move up to a canter when I asked for more trot I made sure he moved up into a BIGGER CANTER, so he didn’t just use a shitty tiny canter as an excuse not to push in the trot. Then when I asked for more trot (a little more quietly), I could reward for the right choice — more trot — fairly easily.
I tried, tried, not to get too out of hand with kicking Murray forward. I only put my crop on him once, and it was a love tap to control a wildly swinging haunch (and I was rewarded with a kick out anyway) when we were walking. I guess I could have wailed on him for antics at some point, but realistically I didn’t want to get into that fight while riding in jeans and not at my strongest. But I’m going to pretend that it was also a strategic decision to avoid fighting, because picking a fight isn’t really productive either.
This obviously isn’t going to be solved in a day or even before this weekend. I do hope I have some kind of go-button before the weekend. I suspect it’s going to be an uphill battle for the rest of the winter, and I’ll have to be very diligent and stay on top of it. Of course, I probably won’t, and come April we’ll be having some kind of similar discussion once more.